By LANDON WOODROOF
The Williamson County Primary Election will be held on May 1. This is the day that Williamson County voters will choose which County Commission candidates they want to be on the ballot for the County General Election, which will be held on Aug. 2.
Each of Williamson County’s 12 districts has two county commissioners representing it. In the primary election, two candidates from each political affiliation will be selected to appear on the general election ballot. If a political party has two or fewer candidates, those candidates will automatically get through the primary stage and on to the general election ballot.
County Commissioners serve four-year terms.
Today we look at the candidates for Williamson County Commission District 7, the most crowded field in the race with seven candidates.
For 32 years now, Bert Chalfant has been serving the citizens of Williamson County’s District 7 on the County Commission.
Chalfant was first appointed to fill out the unexpired term of a departing commissioner in 1986, but he enjoyed the experience so much he decided to stick around. After winning eight elections, he is still committed to the job.
Chalfant has seen the county grow immensely since he first assumed office, and he wants to stay on “to maintain the steady continued progress of the county,” he said.
During his time on the County Commission, Chalfant has sat on every committee and chaired most of them. He remembers chairing the Property Committee when a developer first came in to pitch the idea for CoolSprings Galleria.
This go-round, Chalfant is eager to stay on the committee to track the progress of several local school projects, including the new STEM building on the Brentwood Middle School and Brentwood High School campus and the expansion of Scales Elementary School.
“I want to see this to its completion,” he said.
There is another issue close to his heart, though, and that is Williamson Medical Center.
“It seems like everyone talks about education, and that’s extremely important, and I don’t want to belittle that in any way, but another primary issue that I’ve been extremely vocal on and that I’ve really been very much interested in is the development of Williamson Medical Center,” Chalfant said. “The Williamson Medical Center is a county-owned property, a property owned by the residents of Williamson County, and I don’t want to see that change.”
He fears that “it would destroy the integrity” of the medical center to turn it into a private, for-profit enterprise.
Chalfant spent 38 years in the United States Army Reserve and had a varied professional career that included 13 years as an investigator at the Tennessee Regulatory Authority prior to his retirement.
He has been married to Betty Jane for 35 years, and he has four children, Lea, Anna-Gene, Brad and Creighton, and 13 grandchildren. He has lived in Williamson County for 36 years.
Chalfant is running as a Republican.
Hugh Dupree is running for a seat on the County Commission because he believes that the people of Williamson County should have a new voice in county government.
Dupree pointed out that Bert Chalfant has been on the commission for a long time and that both he and Tom Bain represented the district together for a number of years. Bain passed away in 2017 and his successor, Bobby Hullett, is running for state office, so at least one non-incumbent will be elected to represent the district this year.
Dupree hopes it will be him because he feels that he can act as a corrective to what he sees as the County Commission’s myopic tendency to focus too much on schools.
“Everything has been sacrificed for education, and I think it’s time to think about some other things,” he said.
The foremost of those other things, in Dupree’s mind, is infrastructure. He feels that essential infrastructure, like roads, have suffered in recent years due to the emphasis on education.
While Dupree has no experience in elected office, he does have a history of political engagement. Not only has he run for the County Commission since 1990, but he also served as a delegate for George W. Bush in 2004 and chaired the Williamson County Republican Party for several years.
Dupree has lived in Brentwood since 1984. He and his wife, Pat, have three children, Hugh Jr., Kathy and Elizabeth.
Dupree was in the United States Air Force for 41 years, achieving the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He subsequently went on to other pursuits, which included becoming a local newspaper publisher.
He presently serves as a court officer for General Sessions Judge Tom Taylor.
Dupree is running as a Republican.
Jennifer Luteran’s road to the District 7 County Commission race can be traced back to her pursuit of another elected position.
Luteran came up short in the 2016 election for the Williamson County Board of Education, but the experience she had campaigning stuck with her and inspired her to find another way to make a difference in the place she has lived for 16 years.
“When I ran for the school board I knocked on 2,500 doors so I got to know what a large percentage of the people in Brentwood are concerned about,” she said.
Those concerns largely revolved around schools and, specifically, school funding.
“I realized after running for school board that if I want to help with the school funding and help with the direction of where our county is going I’m better suited for the County Commission than the school board,” she said.
Luteran has some ideas about how to help the school district’s financial situation, and the primary one centers on getting local businesses more involved.
“We have a funding situation in this county, and I’m not a big believer that it should only fall on the taxpayers,” she said. “I think businesses need to do what they can to be more active participants in this county.”
That support could come in a number of ways.
“I would love to have the business community work more closely with our schools to help the PTOs fund projects, to help mentor these kids more closely in the schools, to offer scholarships to students in need,” she said.
Luteran worked in the legal field for 15 years, before stepping away to become a stay-at-home mom. She and her husband, Tom, have been married for 15 years and have three children, Erin, 13, Molly, 11, and Trent, 8.
She has been a Girl Scout troop leader for six years, is a member of the Williamson County Republican Women and is a former board member of CASA, Inc. Davidson County. CASA is an organization that supplies court appointed special advocates for at-risk kids.
She is running as a Republican.
Sara Bowman Melamed
Sara Bowman Melamed felt moved to enter local politics after she and her family moved to Williamson County five years ago.
“I joke that we’re one of the problems here,” she said. “We came here because of the schools, so I want to be part of the solution to make sure that we maintain the quality of schools that brought us to Williamson County as well as the general quality of life we expect in this area.”
Melamed calls the quality of life in Williamson County “beyond anything I’ve experienced anywhere else I’ve lived.”
She thinks that a way to preserve that quality of life is by coming up with better ways to deal with the county’s growth.
“It seems to be unbridled,” she said. “We really need to figure out how to address it. I feel like we’ve been very reactionary, and I think we need to take a more proactive stance.”
Melamed runs her own marketing consulting business. She believes that business background gives her a valuable perspective on helping to manage the county’s spending.
“I’ve worked with multimillion dollar budgets for years and really think we need to take a good hard look at where our money is going,” she said.
In 2014, Melamed’s son started attending Williamson County Schools, a development that led Melamed to look harder at things like local school board races.
“I started paying really close attention then, attending meetings and just really understanding that local government has a huge impact on our daily life, and that to me was a really compelling reason to get involved here in Williamson County,” Melamed said.
Melamed is running as a Democrat, but she thinks that more unites Democrats and Republicans than divides them, especially at the local level.
“We all have the same values at the end of the day,” she said. “We all want to see our kids thrive in our educational system. We all want to make sure we aren’t running into massive debt.”
Melamed and her college sweetheart, Dan, will have been married 20 years this coming November. They have two sons, Zev, 9, and Tyce, 5.
Melamed is a board member of the Gordon JCC, where she chairs the youth and family services committee.
Christopher Richards is running for District 7 County Commissioner to try to improve the county’s financial position.
“I think we can do better,” he said. “I compare the county government to the Brentwood city government and think that we can manage our finances at the county level a lot more like we do at the city level.”
Specifically, he is concerned with the way the county has racked up debt over the years.
“I’d like to see Williamson County try to turn that around and save more money in the bank,” he said. “I think that would allow us to do a lot more toward the planning of our schools and future infrastructure growth. If we just plan ahead we’d be a lot better prepared.”
Part of the problem, in Richards’s view, is that the County Commission is too set in its ways. It has failed to consider innovative options to tackle the county’s debt problem.
“They continue to borrow and not look at different income options and county assets we might be able to use for other purposes,” he said. “Thinking outside of the box, a fresh new perspective is what I’m hoping to bring to the Williamson County Commission.”
Richards has been a stay-at-home parent ever since his kids were born. He has three of them, Cameron, 16, and Bryanna and Diana, 13-year-old twins. He and his wife, Susan, have been married for 25 years.
The couple moved to Williamson County from Antioch about 15 years ago.
Richards has run for political office before. In 2016, he competed for a seat on the Williamson County Board of Education.
While he did not get elected, that has not put a damper on his self-described “passion for politics.”
“I really enjoy to go out and meet people and knock on doors,” he said.
Richards is also a co-chair of the Brentwood Middle School PTO and is a member of the Nashville Football Club Youth Advisory Board.
Jatin Shah has never run for political office before, but government has been on his mind for a long time and now seemed like the right moment to jump in.
“I’ve always been interested in government and how government works,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to pursue. I’ve come to a point where my kids are somewhat more self-sufficient so this was a good time to get involved, to really take that on now.”
Shah’s kids, Ayan, 7, and Rohan, 6, are both enrolled in local public schools, and schools are at the heart of Shah’s decision to run for District 7 county commissioner.
“We definitely need to make sure that we are funding these schools properly,” he said. “I want to make sure that teachers have what they need so they don’t need to go out of pocket and that we have the facilities to educate our kids.”
He supports the county’s recent approval of an educational impact fee and also Williamson County voters’ decision in February to raise the local option sales tax, but Shah said he is perfectly open to other ideas as well to raise funds for schools.
“I’m not going to have tunnel vision and say it’s a property tax or nothing,” he said. “I think a lot of folks are worried about that around town. It may come down to that, I don’t know, but it behooves us to at least explore a couple of these areas.”
Shah and his wife, Malee, have been married for nearly 10 years. They moved to Williamson County in 2011.
Shah is an attorney with his own private practice in Williamson County. In addition to his full-time job, Shah also sits on the board of a local non-profit, Indian Community Senior Support Services.
That organization does volunteer work for elderly South Asian Americans in the area.
“We just try and reach out to them to see if they need any support, whether it’s a car ride or some groceries to be dropped off or a drive to the doctor’s office or just someone to talk to,” he explained.
Shah is running as a Democrat.
Tom Tunnicliffe has two simple reasons that he is seeking a District 7 seat on the Williamson County Commission.
“I am running for this position to first serve and give back to the county and second to help properly fund Williamson County Schools,” he said. “Those are the two that are making me do it in my head and my heart.”
Tunnicliffe said that in contrast to some people running for a seat on the County Commission, he has already taken concrete steps to help with school funding.
He did that, he said, by being a co-creator of the Fund Our Schools Facebook page, which has nearly 2,700 members at the time of writing.
That Facebook page was born in the midst of a drive to secure money for expansion projects at Brentwood Middle School and Brentwood High School. Around that time, WCS unveiled a rezoning plan that was unpopular with many Brentwood parents.
“That is when this Fund Our Schools thing got legs,” Tunnicliffe said.
As he learned more about the funding challenges facing the county, Tunnicliffe began to realize that the problem seriously affected more than just Brentwood schools.
“This isn’t just us guys, we’ve got to get beyond us,” he remembers thinking.
If he is elected to the County Commission, Tunnicliffe hopes to be able to effect funding changes countywide that could have positive impacts on schools and students.
While schools are his main issue, Tunnicliffe said he is also devoted to maintaining the quality of life that Williamson County residents enjoy.
“I want it to stay as perfect as it is,” he said. “I want my kids to be able to come back here and hopefully be able to raise a family here. I want to be able to maintain that.”
Tunnicliffe and his wife, Laura, have been married for 30 years. They have two children who attend Brentwood High School.
Tunnicliffe has lived in Williamson County for 14 years. This is his first time running for political office, but he has a history of volunteering for campaigns, most recently helping with Bobby Hullett’s successful 2016 run for the Williamson County Board of Education.
Tunnicliffe is running as a Republican.